SOUTH BEND — It was 100 years ago in 1914 that World War I began with the murder of Archduke Ferdinand.
Nation after nation lined up to fight on either the side of the Entente, led by France, or the Central Powers, led by Imperial Germany. These alliances had been building for more than 20 years, with each side nursing old wounds and ready for revenge against past insults, officials from the Center for History said. All anticipated the battles would be over by Christmas, thinking new and improved technology would provide a definitive edge.
Little did they conceive of a war that would last until 1918 and encompass the entire globe, museum officials said. Nor did they anticipate that it would cost the lives of 10 million soldiers, severely impair another 20 million and create 10 million refugees.
In the summer of 1914, the war looked like a chance to prove one’s manhood rather than — as it became — a descent into hell, museum officials said.
This story is told in the new exhibit “World War I: The War to End All Wars,” which will be on view Saturday through Dec. 31 at the Center for History.
The Center for History provides this detail of the exhibit:
In the exhibit, visitors begin their journey back in time with burlap sand bags piled high, just as they would have been in the trenches to give protection from the enemy’s incoming mortar shells. Looking out from a trench is a mannequin dressed in a vintage World War I uniform, gas mask nearby. On the battlefields, the charge to “go over the top” was the most feared command. Communicated by the sound of a shrill whistle, the order meant soldiers were to climb out of their trenches (“go over the top”) and advance into enemy machine gun fire.
Walking through the general’s tent, which was the battlefield’s “war room,” visitors can feel the suspense of approaching battles. World War I forced the world’s militaries to modernize their intelligence services. Sabotage was a common way of striking behind enemy lines. Networks of civilians provided behind-the-lines information, some using sophisticated codes.
Near life-sized images of bombed buildings show the devastation of the battles. Film footage of combat chronicles the warfare. Visitors can examine World War I technology, including artifacts like a vintage machine gun, which was the ultimate new weapon of the war.
In a triage tent, with its accompanying ambulance, stories of the war’s wounded and ill are told, with special focus on shell shock as well as the use and horrific results of poison gas. Injured soldiers were transported by stretcher bearers to waiting motorized ambulances, which were quickly replacing ones that were horse drawn.
For the first time, the triage method was used extensively to determine the order in which the wounded were to be treated. Those with the most severe injuries were transferred to hospitals far behind the battle lines. Never before had such a large number of women worked so close to the battlefields. Thousands of female nurses toiled alongside doctors for hours upon hours to care for the wounded men.
The exhibit also explores the home front of World War I. In a draft office, visitors can learn how civilians enlisted in the war. In the United States, the draft was an extremely divisive issue, Center for History officials said. Draft supporters were concerned that there would not be enough volunteer enlistees. Some who opposed the draft thought it was detrimental to the idea of American freedom. After the draft was put into effect, President Wilson tried to keep the focus on volunteerism by labeling the draft the “Selective Service” and dubbing soldiers “servicemen.”
Visitors can experience the culture of the World War I era, whose writers, artists and composers include Ernest Hemingway and e.e.cummings. A cookbook, “Kitchen Patriots,” published by the Food Conservation Committee of St. Joseph County, Ind., offers a glimpse into the strong efforts made by American families to support the war. Victory gardens, along with “wheatless” and “meatless” days, were ways to preserve food for the growing army.
Visitors can also read actual letters received by families in South Bend, Mishawaka and other local communities. The heartfelt words of soldiers give perspectives on the tragedies of war, museum officials said.
Maps showing the countries of pre-war and post-war Europe serve as reminders of the changes brought by World War I.
Ten million people died. France alone lost two million. Germany lost 37 percent of its men between the ages of 19 and 22.
The war destroyed the goodwill, optimism and benevolence of European culture, museum officials said, and left a legacy of racial hatred that eventually led to World War II.
Entire nations lost respect for constitutional governments, and totalitarian regimes took over in Russia (1917), Italy (1922), Germany (1933), and Spain (1936), officials continued. The war’s end brought a cessation of fighting, but by 1940, all these nations were back at war.
The stories of “World War I: The War to End All Wars” are told through artifacts and photographs from the collections of the Center for History. Several items are on loan from Robert Dunn and other local residents, as well as the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial, located in Kansas City, Mo.
Admission to the Center for History is free for members, $8 for adults, $6.50 for senior citizens, $5 for youth ages 6 to 17, and free for children ages 5 and younger, and includes visits to all galleries plus a guided tour of the 38-room Oliver Mansion, once home to J.D. Oliver, president of the Oliver Chilled Plow Works.
With a campus ticket, which is free for members, $12 for adults, $10 for senior citizens, $7 for youth ages 6 to 17, and free for those 5 and younger, visitors can also tour all three floors of exhibits at the adjoining Studebaker National Museum. The two museums make up The Museums at Washington and Chapin.
The Center for History is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. House tours are available Monday through Saturday at 11 a.m. and 1 and 2 p.m., and Sunday at 1 and 2:30 p.m.
For more information, call 574-235-9664.